US President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel hold a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, D.C., Feb. 9, 2015.
Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty

At White House, Merkel urges caution on Ukraine


German Chancellor Angela Merkel met President Barack Obama at the White House on Monday, as the two countries sought to display a united front against aggression from Russia and the Islamic State.

“We continue to encourage a diplomatic resolution to this issue and as diplomatic efforts continue this week,” Obama said Monday at a joint press conference with Merkel. “We are in absolute agreement that the 21st century cannot stand idle and simply allow the borders of Europe to be redrawn at the barrel of a gun.”

The meeting comes at a precipitous time in Ukraine’s fight against pro-Russian separatists: The violence in Eastern Ukraine has worsened in the last few weeks, killing on average 10 civilians a day and sending the death toll above 5,300. About 1.5 million people have been displaced.

Ukraine and Western powers have been ramping up efforts to get Russia, which is supplying the rebels with weapons, to deescalate the situation and adhere to peace agreements they’ve signed in the past. On Friday, they agreed to draw up another agreement, but past ceasefires have been ignored and Ukraine says they won’t adhere to any agreement that deviates from the September ceasefire that was signed and largely ignored.

Lawmakers have encouraged Obama to arm the Ukrainian rebels fighting pro-Russian separatists, but the president has held off on taking a stance ahead of this meeting.

“The Ukrainians are being slaughtered and we’re sending them blankets and meals,” Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain said in Munich last week. “Blankets don’t do well against Russian tanks.”

But Merkel—whose country would be a lot harder hit by reprisal sanctions from Russia—urged caution in Western nations’ response to Russian aggression.

As a Russian speaker who grew up in East Germany, Merkel has largely taken the lead in standing up to Russia in the wake of the Ukrainian rebellion that ousted a Russian-supported president. Russia annexed Crimea shortly after Ukraine’s people rose up to form a new government, and appear to be attempting the same maneuver in eastern Ukraine.

Merkel held her line Monday, pushing back against arming the Ukranian’s fighting pro-Russian separatists.

“One of the most important messages we can and need to send to Russia is to continue to pursue diplomatic solution,” she said at a joint press conference. “We have to put all efforts in bringing about diplomatic solution.”

Last week, she said she couldn’t “imagine any situation in which improved equipment for the Ukrainian army leads to President Putin being so impressed that he believes he will lose militarily.”

When asked, Obama acknowledged Merkel’s view, saying it was unlikely a country like Russia would be rebuffed simply by arming Ukraine, but said a decision had not been made. Both leaders emphasized their desire to help Ukraine’s government – which is struggling with a $15 billion deficit.

The two world leaders also discussed the threat of terrorism posed by the Islamic State, which has vowed to “strike fear” into the “bedrooms” of Westerners.

Germany, like other Western countries, has been bolstering its participation in the American-led fight on ISIS. In the wake of the terror attacks in Paris, it announced it would grow the number of military advisers it has in Iraq helping to train and arm Kurdish forces fighting the Islamic State.